Carroll’s national award-winning Emerald Belles drill team celebrates its 60th birthday in high style
By Joy Donovan
The team will celebrate its six decades during the Dragons’ game tonight in Southlake
In 1963, John Connally was Texas governor, Carroll Independent School District was Class 1A, Title IX requiring equal funding for genders in school activities was nearly a decade away, and the Emerald Belles drill team made its debut.
Sixty years later, the green carpet has been rolled out for the now nationally known and award-winning Belles, who are kicking up a hat-high celebration in Southlake. The team will dance into its 60th anniversary at the home football game Sept. 1 against Flower Mound Marcus at Southlake’s Dragon Stadium.
Alumnae from New York, California, Hawaii and points in between are returning for the anniversary reunion and halftime show, said Tiffany Clerc, event chairwoman. Organizers said they expected nearly 500 Emerald Belle alumnae for the march-in at the game’s beginning. The halftime show will feature 175 alumnae and 75 current varsity and 20 junior varsity Belles.
“These women are so excited to remember just what a huge part Emerald Belles played in their high school experience,” Clerc said.
The football game is dedicated to the Emerald Belles and includes a pregame tailgate party, 6:30 p.m. at Dragon Stadium. The alumnae will participate in the team’s traditional “victory lines,” be recognized on the field and sit with current Belles in the stands during the game.
Most anticipated: the halftime performance with current and former Emerald Belles dancing together on the field. The dance is being choreographed by longtime drill team director Melissa Page, whose reputation for excellence earned her the honor of being named director of the year in 2022 by the Texas Dance Educators Association.
“I’m terrified,” said Christy Capps Stacy, who served as a drill team officer from 1998 to 1999 and is now on the district’s school board, in an interview. “I’m absolutely terrified, because it’s long. She’s definitely going to want people in the front to look good.”
Looking good during a difficult performance — all with a red-lipsticked smile — is a long Emerald Belle tradition.
National dance competitions with high achievement have become an expectation, and the team has trophies worthy of front hall placement to back it up. Appearing on national TV, the Emerald Belles were watched by millions in 2019 when they competed on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
The team spun, leapt and kicked all the way to the quarterfinals. During their multiple appearances, they dazzled even the notoriously cranky judge Simon Cowell. Judge Julianne Hough, a dancer, told them, “You were cohesive and collectively beautiful.”
“When you think about the Emerald Belles, you think excellence and tradition,” Dragons head coach Riley Dodge, the team’s quarterback in the early 2000s, said. “We are so grateful for their unwavering support every Friday night. They are one of the reasons that Friday nights in Southlake, Texas, are so special.”
In addition to the Sept. 1 celebration, the Emerald Belles’ booster club completed a big project on the wish list: a full remodeling of the team’s locker room, with new flooring, coffee machine and water station.
Each Emerald Belle has her own white locker, complete with mirror, electrical outlet and a pink vanity stool. The project, designed by Jana Schleif, an interior designer and Emerald Belle parent, and constructed by Tri Best Specialties, whose managing partner, Chad Ray, is an Emerald Belle uncle, was revealed in August. It all should make arriving at school for 6:45 a.m. practices five days a week a lot easier.
Early mornings, hard work, bus rides and hat-high kicks are all part of Emerald Belles life. No one who hasn’t witnessed it would realize how hard the dancers work or the hours they spend, said Scott Hall, who has been a parent of both an Emerald Belle and a football player.
“We were immensely proud to be Belle parents,” he said. “You always want your child to be a part of something special, and it’s a very special organization.”
Page also is proud of the group she’s been coaching for 27 of the Emerald Belles’ 60 years.
“I love these kids, and I love the program that’s been built,” she said. “It stands for so much, and it means so much to me.”
The Belles Through the Decades
As the award-winning Emerald Belles drill team celebrates 60 years representing Carroll Independent School District, some of its leaders through the decades are recalling how it shaped their lives.
Billie Ebersole, founding co-director, 1963
When some high school girls wanted to start a drill team, Ebersole, a first grade teacher who had never danced, and Patsy Crawford, a high school business teacher who danced in middle school, agreed to sponsor a team and choreograph the dances. A record player in the press box provided the music the first year. In her last year as a sponsor, Ebersole found out that many team members had never attended a tea, so she hosted one in her home and required the girls to wear hats and gloves.
Favorite memory: Ebersole refused to allow the team to be called the Dragonettes. She claims the honor of naming the team the Emerald Belles. “I just loved my girls. I spent more time at the school than I did at home.”
Kathy Hargadine Srokosz, captain, 1970-71. Nursing director
As captain, she led a “small and mighty team” of 22. At the time, most Carroll High School classes numbered 50 and fans watched the games from bleachers that people could walk under. The emerald green uniforms featured a green top hat and a flared skirt with silver accents.
Attending summer camp at Southern Methodist University, the team, under director Vicki Lowrey, turned heads when they entered in lines, wearing black leotards, black tights and sashes tied at the waist. They looked ready to dance, and it started a trend.
Favorite memory: “I just loved working with the entire group every year. I learned a lot about leadership. I was proud to be an Emerald Belle and represent the school. It gave you purpose.”
She added, “I think I really appreciated the small-town focus. It was a great community, and everyone was all-in. It was a great opportunity. It gave you a chance to work with people in conflict resolution, how to meet a goal and how to inspire others. Those things are truly valuable in a leadership role.”
Christy Light Berg, captain 1987, 1988. Graduation Co-ordinator at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Berg was the only junior to be captain.
The team danced to such popular songs as Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” all played by the school’s marching band. She remembers her junior year as the first time the football team made it deep into state playoffs approaching the holidays. The band played “A Holly Jolly Christmas” while the drill team danced in red tights and green uniforms with red sleeves. The Belles held each other accountable for their decisions, she said. She later became a drill team director, initiating the Grapevine Belles junior varsity team at Grapevine High School and launching the Panteras dance team at Colleyville Heritage High School when it opened.
Favorite memory: The Christmas dance during a playoff game at Pennington Field, a field larger than the Dragons were playing on at the time. “We were star-struck. It was magical, and we got our name on the big screen. It was amazing. Being part of something bigger than yourself kept us from just thinking about self.”
Christy Capps Stacy, senior lieutenant, 1998-99. Carroll Independent School District trustee
During Stacy’s junior year, the new director, Melissa Page, brought in different, more contemporary dance styles. The team, she said, transitioned from a drill team to a dance team. Instead of a dance list that had only kick, jazz, pom and military numbers, the Emerald Belles began performing modern and lyrical dances, too. Setting the stage for the routines was music such as Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and “From This Moment On” by Shania Twain. Practice uniforms were spandex “which was terrible,” and competition costumes often were crushed velvet unitards. Each day of the week, team members were assigned a specific uniform, including a scrunchie. Not wearing the right scrunchie could result in demerits, with 100 high kicks per demerit. All that paid off when an infamous “skirt routine” dedicated to a late classmate received a standing ovation.
Favorite memory: One year, the team competed in a contest where they previously hadn’t placed very well. The team placed second. “Obviously, we wanted to win, but to see Melissa so excited got us excited. What it showed me is that we really wanted to get first for her, but it was so cool to see she wanted first, too, but wasn’t disappointed. That was exciting to us. It grows you up and prepares you for life.”
Belen Mahan Garren, captain, 2000-01. North Texas middle market manager for JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Garren was an Emerald Belle during longtime director Melissa Page’s first year, when new ideas were launched and scrunchies pulled hair back during practice. The field uniform was still very traditional, with a skirt atop a petticoat, and a sequined cowgirl hat. The 75-member team learned to compete in dance styles new to them and in costumes very different from the traditional ones. For a very modern kick routine, the dancers were outfitted in black head to toe, with only their faces showing. It was wildly successful, and the girls learned it was OK to take risks. The Emerald Belles by then had become a year-round sport. Early morning practices, after-school planning and summer camps were part of the commitment.
Favorite memory: Summer camp, for learning new dances and making new friends. “It was taking a group of individuals who didn’t know each other and, by the end of it, we had come in as individuals and left as a team. We developed lifelong friendships.”
Karis Warren Van, captain, 2007-2008. Current Colleyville Heritage High School Panteras director
Uniformity in the attire was perfected for what she calls an “iconic uniform.” Besides a black sequined and fringed skirt overlay pinned to a black leotard, the Emerald Belles — except for Van, who as captain wore silver — all wore tan tights, white boots, smoky green eye shadow and red lipstick. When they performed jazz routines, the girls all wore long, fake ponytails for added drama.
The music included a Black Eyed Peas mix for a hip-hop dance during contest season and a kick routine that took on a cowgirl twist.
Favorite memory: Walking out on the football field as the band tapped the tempo. “That was always so special, because in our community, from elementary school to high school, you’re a Dragon. The little girls look up to you. It’s such a legacy that’s extremely special.”
Hannah Ganiear, captain, 2023-24. Current senior
Ganiear serves as captain to 76 Emerald Belles, most of whom had many years of dance training before they made the team. Long gone are the days of moms sewing uniforms; the team now wears multiple uniforms, with black now a major color combined with green and white.
In addition to director Melissa Page, the team brings in outside choreographers to stage its numbers.
Favorite memory: Winning the first competition her freshman year during the COVID pandemic. Ganiear also is looking forward to a team trip in the spring to New York to see Broadway shows and take classes from the legendary Radio City Rockettes. “I have learned about how important it is to be kind to others, and it’s important to lead with kindness. It is important to work to find a common ground, but the most important thing is to be kind to each other.”